Friday, February 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays Tales: Energy from road crowds underscores what Rays are missing

Lagging behind

MLB attendance, by average:

TOP 5

Dodgers 45,727

Cardinals 42,580

Giants 41,092

Yankees 40,686

Blue Jays 40,058

BOTTOM 5

Rays 15,615

A's 18,891

Marlins 20,701

White Sox 21,615

Reds 23,339

(Through Friday)

Staying away

Rays' smallest crowds at Trop:

7,147 May 2, 2006 Rangers

7,295 May 1, 2006 Rangers

7,820 Aug. 21, 2006 Rangers

8,028 Aug. 22, 2006 Rangers

8,193 Aug. 4, 2003 Jays

8,195 Aug. 16, 2006 Jays

8,208 Aug. 11, 2003 Orioles

8,237 Sept. 2, 2003 Mariners

8,256 Sept. 5, 2006 Twins

8,264Aug. 23, 2017Jays

Rays' smallest crowds elsewhere:

4,277 July 13, 2001 at Montreal

4,877 July 12, 2001 at Montreal

5,471 July 14, 2001 at Montreal

7,020 April 4, 2000 at Minnesota

7,069 June 11, 1999 at Montreal

7,072 Sept. 3, 1998 at Minnesota

7,089 April 5, 2000 at Minnesota

7,165 Sept. 2, 1998 at Minnesota

7,170 June 1, 1999 at Oakland

7,234 June 13, 1999 at Montreal

Source: baseball-reference.com

The weekend trip to St. Louis, then on to Kansas City, gives the Rays another chance to see what life is like on the other side, where baseball games are considered big events and fans flock to stadiums, providing energy that serves as precious fuel, especially during a playoff push.

And they could use it after another uninspiring and lonely homestand at the Trop, where the three most recent games, against Toronto, drew a combined 30,345 — including Wednesday's 10-plus-year record low of 8,264, on the night (coincidentally?) that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred was in town to turn up the rhetoric on the need for a new stadium.

We have written plenty, John Romano does again today on 1B and there will be many, many more words typed in coming months about the stadium quest.

But as much as new stadiums and fan support are issues of politics and finances and government mandate and geography and environmental impact and socio­economic choices and even philosophy, they are also about baseball.

"It's a pretty simple answer," Rays veteran 3B Evan Longoria said, "if you ask guys whether they'd rather play in an empty stadium or a full stadium, it'd be unanimous — everybody loves to play in a full stadium.

"When you get to go places that have storied fan bases that pack the house, it's definitely a unique experience. It definitely helps. It helps when you come to a full ballpark and the environment is charged and you can feel that as a player. … You can feel the energy in the stadium when it's full. It doesn't take an expert to point that out."

RHP Chris Archer, who, like Longoria, has been with the Rays long enough to accept the Trop experience for what it is on most nights, said the difference on the road is stark.

"The past couple years, the Royals fans have been amazing — loud and packed houses," Archer said. "It's a fun environment to play in, quite the contrast from Tropicana Field. Not to throw a jab, it's just way different. And my experience in St. Louis has been really cool, seeing all the red in the seats and the energy and the vibe. … It can play a role for sure."

The Rays used to promote a stat — back when they were drawing bigger crowds (and winning more, and hosting popular concerts to draw fans) — of their record with 30,000 plus in the Trop, suggesting — 52-17 from 2008 on, per an August 2014 team tweet, for example — that it made a difference in their record.

For players such as Longoria and Archer, the Trop experience as a home player is all they know. So they have had to adapt to finding alternative energy sources, as well as to the alternate universe feeling — "Really strange," Archer said — of at times having more fans there cheering at critical moments for the visitors.

(PSA: They and other Rays wanted to make clear they appreciate the fans the Rays do have, know many are watching/listening from home, and weren't complaining but were answering questions about the difference big crowds can make.)

But players who have played elsewhere, such as veteran reliever Tommy Hunter, can't help but note the difference — and the residual challenge of small home crowds.

"It stinks," Hunter said. "You can't rag on the people that come on a daily basis and show their love and support and bring their positivity. … But it's tough.

"It's so much easier to play baseball when it's a packed house, when you can't hear yourself thinking, when you can't hear yourself cussing yourself out on the mound after you give up a game-winning home run.

"When people talk about homefield advantage, I think that's a big part of it, a packed house playing for a purpose, like you're playing for a city. When people do come out for it, it shows you how much people actually do care about what you do and how much they have your back. And sometimes when there is a lack of it, it makes us feel there is a disinterest. It makes players feel that people don't care as much as we do, when actually they do because I'm sure there's a lot of people at home rooting us on that just don't come. It hurts our heart."

Midwest experience

The Rays see plenty of big road crowds in the AL East, which usually have an edge. That makes this Midwest trip different as Cardinals backers — who proudly (conceitedly?) call themselves the Best Fans in Baseball — are known for cheering not just their team but good play overall. "I'm biased because I grew up there," said RHP Jake Odorizzi, of nearby Highland, Ill. "I think the environment, a lot of people would agree, is the best. They really appreciate good baseball. … From that standpoint it's very unique, not a lot of places give credit to the visiting team. … It's just like, 'This is baseball' — and it's a special thing."

What's best for Rays?

As the one current player signed long enough — with an option through 2023 — to conceivably play in a new Tampa Bay ballpark, 3B Evan Longoria has some ideas, not on location but on design: "I've said this time and time again, I don't mind the Trop. I don't think anybody wants to play outdoors. There's too much rain. It wouldn't make sense to have an open-air stadium. It would definitely have to be retractable. … The design should be something around Houston's stadium. I love playing there. I think it has a really good feel." … RHP Chris Archer said St. Louis' development of the adjacent Ballpark Village of restaurants, bars and a team shop makes a good overall model.

Rays rumblings

Maybe a little TMI, but after reading and discussing thoughts over The Five Love Languages book, RHP Chris Archer revealed that LHP Blake Snell "likes to be showered with affection." … RHP Alex Cobb was No. 5 overall, and third among starters behind Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta, on Jon Heyman's fanragsports.com's early ranking of top free agents, which seems high. … With the Rays in talks for a new TV deal, it's noteworthy that prime time ratings are down 2 percent from last season, per forbes.com, but the Fox Sports Sun programming ranks third overall and first among cable options in market. … Expect the Rays to stick with Brad Miller at second no matter how much he struggles. … Commissioner Rob Manfred called top Ray Stuart Sternberg (above) "one of our best owners" and said the Rays "have done a phenomenal job putting a competitive product on the field." … Archer's slider was rated third best in espn.com's Keith Law's MLB best tools list, behind Nationals ace Max Scherzer and Dodgers LHP Clayton Kershaw. CF Kevin Kiermaier was fourth on Law's outfield glove list. … That really was former Devil Rays 1B Aubrey Huff on Fox News last week talking pro-Trump politics. … Offseason rumors are already starting, with the New York Post mentioning 3B Evan Longoria as a Mets trade target. … The Rays were ninth overall, and sixth in the AL, in a Fangraphs/espn.com ranking of contenders' offenses going down the stretch. … In saying teams needs to improve in-stadium entertainment, Cobb said, "People don't want to come here and watch commercials. It's a show. You bought your ticket and everything that's going on in here should be entertainment."

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